Perhaps the writing of this story is to again remind us of our passion for hunting and shooting and how Winchester guns and ammo have been there since it all began.
All gun producers have a history, but it is doubtful that any can rival that of Winchester and its founder, Oliver F. Winchester. Born in 1810 in Boston, Oliver was a carpenter, ran a men’s clothing store and became involved in the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. In 1855, after becoming the company’s principal stockholder, he would change the name to New Haven Arms. Then in 1860, employee and gunsmith Benjamin Henry was granted a patent for a rifle. Henry’s 1866 lever-action rifle would be the first gun to bear the name “Winchester” when Oliver established the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Seven years later the ’66 would be upgraded and become the 1873 Winchester, the iconic “Gun That Won The West.” Production of the ’73 would amount to more than 700,000 rifles.
In 1880, Oliver Winchester passed away at the age of 70. Three years later, the company bearing his name was introduced to gun genius James Moses Browning. Browning would invent model after model of guns for Winchester until 1895, when he would leave and establish his own company.
Like all successful companies, Winchester had a goal — “To upgrade and add new products to the shooters and hunters.” In 1912, the Model 12 would become Winchester’s first hammerless slide-action (pump) shotgun. Full production of the Model 12 began in 1914 and by 1963, 1,900,000 were produced available in 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauge. Production was put on hold in 1964 but soon the “revised” Model 12 hit the market and was manufactured until 1980, when serial number 2,027,500 became the last. It’s apparent that during the 20th century most hunters either shot or owned “Ol’ Faithful.”
In 1919, wildlife artist Philip Goodwin approached Winchester with the idea of a pictured logo he designed. His sales pitch was successful. Thus, the cowboy on the galloping horse holding a Winchester lever action rifle became one of the most recognizable logos and remains so today. Goodwin’s career “boomed.”
The Western Cartridge Co. in East Alton was founded by F.W. Olin in the early 1900s. His son, John M. Olin, was vice-president of the company. In 1921, under John Olin’s direction and leadership, “The Western” purchased Winchester Repeating Arms of New Haven, Conn. The ammunition division was moved to East Alton and became Winchester-Western Ammunition. During World War II, billions of rounds of ammo would be produced and sold to the American armed forces and the nation’s allies.
Now about the “Gun That Won My Heart.” The Reid family Model 12, 20 gauge became part of our heritage in 1933 when my mother was employed as a secretary for John Olin. She purchased the new gun for less than $50 as a birthday present for her husband, a machinist at “The Western.” Her father, W.E. Wardlow, was labeled “the head machinist” at the plant. My father hunted and shot clay birds with that gun until his death.
Born in the Mississippi River town of Alton into a family steeped in hunting and fishing, it was a given that I would follow the family tradition. At the age of 10 I was given my first shooting lesson and soon afterward, dressed in a hand-me-down canvas coat, over-sized leaky hip boots, a D-2 Olt duck call hanging around my neck and my father’s Model 12-20-gauge Winchester in my hands, I experienced my first duck hunt.
Dad made the declaration that every “kid” in the Reid family begin his or her hunting career with his ol’ Model 12 Winchester. Thus in 1950, my first mallard fell victim to a Super X fired by “Ol’ Faithful.” The tradition would be carried on by my brother Tom, my son Todd and my three grandsons, Sam, Will and Michael. When I celebrated my 60th year as a waterfowler, the decision was made to again hunt with the old Winchester. All worked well and many memories were relived.
Volumes, thousands of words have been written about Winchester and the celebration of 150 years will begin new chapters.
Hopefully, my story will rekindle memories of your past and begin a new era.
Larry Reid is host of “Outdoors with Larry Reid,” which airs at noon Sundays on WBGZ Radio, 1570 AM/94.3FM.